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4] In the last lesson I ask some of you, “what is your first response to Robinson’s story about the white and black twins in context with our course theme of investigating intersections where story and literature meet.” I asked, what do you make of this “stolen piece of paper”? Now that we have contextualized that story with some historical narratives and explored ideas about questions of authenticity and the necessity to “get the story right” – how have your insights into that story changed?

 

 

After completing this week’s readings I am compelled to say that I no longer read the original story, at least in order of presentation in this class, as a legend, but as a historical narrative. It certainly does not fit into the Western interpretation of history, but it does serve as an entry point to both a past occurrence, although impossible to prove, and a bridge to the post-contact colonial world. By this I mean that after reading the story of Coyote and the King, the ongoing narrative, which is common to oral story telling traditions and practices, provides the context for the second reading.

 

The main characters are again Coyote (the black twin) and the King (the white one). In this case the older twin (Coyote) has the upper hand, and gets his way over his younger brother, at least initially. The law is written on paper as coyote wants, and the terms are to be sent to what is Canada to be read when the First Nations peoples become literate. This certainly differs from the first tale, at least in the beginning, in that the older brother appears to be in control. Though we soon learn that this is yet another trick by the younger brother, in that the documents end up being locked away and their contents do not become accessible to the First Nations people as they were intended to be.

 

Arguably, the story is fictional, but the direct correlation to real world events, and the still large divide between European powers and First Nations groups is clearly illustrated in both of these stories. The information, in the form of laws, is still being hidden from Coyote’s peoples, and the balance of power still sits in the deceptive ‘white” peoples hands. The political commentary is succinct, and the method of delivery (direct transcription from Robinson’s words) adds to the power of the message in the story.

 

After this weeks readings both stories, the origin story and the follow up, represent a voice that needs to be heard. It commands one to recognize that there was an established culture, with their own ways and practices, well before the arrival of settlers in North America. It is the time to listen, and not just with our ears, but with our hearts and minds. Once this occurs then, and only then, can a true dialogue develop, and the potential for reconciliation, perhaps a societal do-over, can occur.

7 Comments

  1. Hi Sean,

    I really agree with the point you conclude with in this post; that its important to read these stories as a way of understanding the deep-seated political divide between Europeans and First Nations groups, not not simply be dismissed as a “legend” or “just a story”. I recognize the importance of this, but when I think about how this goal can actually be realized, it seems so daunting! What are your thoughts? Any ideas on how our country can engage with these stories more? Or even on a smaller scale, like at UBC? Like you said, a possible societal “do-over” is only possible if these stories as respected. Great blog post!

    – Natasha

    • Hi Natasha.

      I think the answer to your question, about where to begin, starts here. It will take a mind-shift that will likely start small, such as university students and like-minded individuals. It will likely come down to younger generations, on both sides, realizing the mistakes in judgement made by both sides in the past. It will take acceptance on the European side, and engagement of traditional cultures on the First Nations side. Both sides will need to embrace and work within the constraints of the conflicting ideologies, and hopefully the commonality that exists between them can be seen and recognized. I am only a small example, but I have already begun to see the similarities, and can generally recognize the value in both renditions. In my opinion, the biggest challenge to overcome will be the stereotypes held firmly by both sides, and this is where the younger generation comes into play. Children need to be taught a new history, one that respects both traditions, governments need to stop apologizing and make steps to shift the balance back to neutral. I don’t think a whole scale reversal will be effective, but a neutral relationship built on trust and respect will go a long way. I realize that this reply has turned into a political rant, but I am quite passionate about this subject. I hope this answered your question.

  2. Hi Sean, great post! I think the two stories- although differing slightly, sum up a very possible and plausible historical narrative. At the beginning of your post, you said you no longer read this story as a legend but as a historical narrative. I think, many people, disregard all First Nation renditions of history as legend, however many stories that are publicized and shared with the general non-Indigenous public have fantastical elements, making them seem “legend-like”, and are dismissed as fiction. My question for you is, do you think if stories like Coyote and the King were widely shared and contextualized, people would see First Nations stories as more historically accurate rather than fiction? When intersections and connections to a side of history that is widely taught and known are present in the story, would it be easier for people to ground themselves in the story and accept it as reality?

    • Hi Danica,

      I think that the widespread sharing of First Nation stories would be a good start, but I believe that it would take a reversal of attitude and education to really make this change. I think a side-by-side approach, highlighting the similarities, rather than the current focus on the differences, could effectively tackle that side. For it to be truly effective, I think the stigmas have to be broken. One must reassess the relationship between the two groups, and begin by recognizing the historical value, and the different approaches to history, as equally valid. In time, I hope that a middle ground can be reached, that will eventually lead to a more honest, adjoined Canadian history.

  3. Hi Sean,

    Interesting blog post.

    When reading the story of Coyote and the King and reflecting on how this relates back to the story of the twins, I was struck most by something that Carlson mentioned in his article about orality and literacy. In particular, Carlson argues that a typical historical perspective suggests that orality always precedes literacy. This paradigm suggests that the trajectory of a culture is uni-directional: we move only from orality to literacy, and never in reverse. Carlson states that “Exceptions to this rule…would signal a civilization’s decay or a culture’s decline” (45).

    What is so significant, in my mind, about the story of the twins and Coyote and the King is that both stories suggest that Indigenous culture defies this paradigm. The stories argue that Indigenous societies moved from literacy to orality and then back to literacy. Perhaps these stories are arguing that we view orality in a different light. That a culture’s use of orality does not signify “decay” or “decline” but a certain degree of enlightenment. For an oral culture to survive, there is naturally an increase in trust, community, collective accountability, and compromise. In my mind, these virtues mark a successful, civilized community. It is interesting that literacy tends to promote the opposite: questioning, mistrust, individuality, and selfishness. Since Carlson’s article suggests that a uni-directional paradigm views orality as primitive and literacy as civilized, I think the facts of these stories directly contradict this paradigm.

    I think the stories argue for the validity of oral cultures and histories, and in fact, suggest that they are superior (in the sense of their virtue).

    Just a thought.

    What do you think?

    • Hi Janine,

      That is a very interesting take on the the readings, and something that never crossed my mind. In fact, the way that you put it I must admit I can’t really argue with. In this case Carlson is prescribing to the euro-centric view of superiority. I am not fully convinced that Robinson was necessarily arguing for the dominance of his ancestors, but I certainly agree that he was stating the validity of oral traditions, and therefore at the worst, the equal value of oral and literary traditions. I also noticed that in dictating this story, with an eye to recording the oral stories exactly as they were told, serves to validate the oral tradition in the ‘western’ medium of print. You have given me much to ponder about this ongoing conflict between oral and literary historical traditions, thank you!

    • Hi Janine,

      I am not sure if I am doing this right, at least through the instructions in unit 3, but I have really enjoyed your posts and your comments on mine, and I think we should work together on the Onlin Conference assignment.

      What do you think?


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